Raleigh has many, previously developed properties. Some, like the corner of North New Hope Church and Atlantic Ave, have no structures but the land is contaminated from previous industrial activity. Others such as the Tower Shopping Center sit empty and rundown.
Whether the land is contaminated or not, it is generally more costly to develop such sites than greenfield sites. In many cases older buildings have to be demolished and disposed of. In the case of contamination, significant testing and remediation must be performed. These costs are not associated with greenfield sites – by definition, greenfield sites have been undisturbed and now contain fields of grasses, mature trees, or other vegetation. It is simply cheaper to clear cut greenfield sites.
Because of this disparity in costs, our greenfield sites are quickly disappearing. The loss of greenfield sites degrades our environment. Focusing on developing greenfield sites also means that older, previously developed sites such as the Tower Shopping Center or the corner of Atlantic and New Hope Church sit empty and fester.
We talk about increasing density as a way to save and protect our environment. But we actually harm our environment by making it so easy to level our greenfield sites and do nothing to encourage redevelopment of existing sites.
To level the playing field, perhaps we should levy higher fees for developing greenfield sites and use those fees to offset the costs of redevelopment of brownfield and other properties that have been previously developed. If doing so is not permitted by state law, then we should discuss with our local delegation about getting a local ordinance. It makes sense today to encourage redevelopment rather than clear cutting more greenfield sites for our unprecedented growth. We have the opportunity to make a difference.